Lied Center, artist to be honored

Governor's Arts Awards winners will be recognized today

A celebrated Lawrence artist and a local venue that draws performers from the far reaches of the world will be recognized today with Kansas Governor's Arts Awards.

Stephen Johnson, known nationally for his children's books, public art and figurative drawings and paintings, snags the award for individual artist. The Lied Center, which reaches out to some 75,000 Kansans through its programming, notches an award in the arts organization category.

They are among five winners of the awards, a program of the Kansas Arts Commission in cooperation with the office of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Recipients will be honored this evening during an invitation-only reception/ceremony at Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., in Overland Park.

The governor also will read a formal proclamation designating Jonathan Holden of Manhattan as Kansas' first Poet Laureate. Holden begins his two-year term July 1 and will serve two years.

Johnson, who received Lawrence's Phoenix Award for Exceptional Artistic Achievement in 2004, says he's most proud of being able to survive solely on his art since graduating from Kansas University in 1987.

"That said, my recent public commissions here in Lawrence and in New York City, my children's books and the fact that people still call me to buy original works of art are what keep me excited and passionate about my work," he says. "Living here in Lawrence has been a marvelous place to both explore and share in the making of my art and ideas."

Governor's Arts Awards

  • Stephen Johnson, Lawrence, individual artist
  • The Lied Center, Lawrence, arts organization
  • Marilyn Killian, Wichita, art educator, voice
  • Jerry and Margaret Nerman, Leawood, individual arts patrons
  • Martha Rhea, Salina, arts advocate
  • Jonathan Holden, Poet Laureate of Kansas and University Distinguished Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at Kansas State University, also will be recognized.

Johnson's most recent public art project - "Arrangement in Red, Blue and Gold," a sculpture composed of a tangle of abstracted musical notation - hangs on a high wall in the Lied Center lobby and commemorates the centennial of the Kansas University concert series. Before long, a sculpture called "Free," designed by Johnson and fabricated by Baldwin artist Cotter Mitchell, will grace the corner of Sixth and Massachusetts streets as the city's next Percent for Art project.

Johnson received $35,000 from the city in 2002 to create seven interactive robot sculptures, 12 original works of art and a rocket ship stepladder for Lawrence Memorial Hospital's children's wing. His book illustrations have earned him repeated acclaim from the Society of Illustrators, and the Pastel Society of America has recognized him as a Master Pastelist.

Tim Van Leer, director of the Lied Center, says the success of the organization is dependent on the center's staff, volunteers, board members and the many Friends of the Lied who have made the center's programs an integral part of their lives.

Although many Lawrence residents think of the Lied Center as a strictly local institution, the venue has its tentacles stretched far beyond Lawrence.

"Since its inception, the vision for the Lied Center of Kansas has been to make the arts accessible to the people of Kansas," Van Leer says. "Each year, the Lied Center provides the opportunity for thousands of Kansans to enjoy a live performance. Coming from small towns and rural areas, students and adults from 57 Kansas counties have become part of the Lied Center experience."

The Lied Center annually presents 35 events and is host to more than 100 performances. These activities impact the lives of 75,000 Kansans - 40 percent of them children and 30 percent of them living in Douglas County.

Thousands of children in Lawrence schools attend Lied Center performances each year, and local and statewide outreach programs generate residency and educational activities for 3,000 Kansans.

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